Mayorkas defends Biden’s asylum action from critics on both sides of the aisle while calling on Congress to do more

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Sunday pushed back on criticism of President Joe Biden’s new executive action restricting asylum while calling on Congress to take action on the border.

“It’s early, the signs are positive. Our personnel have done an extraordinary job in implementing a very big shift in how we operate on the southern border,” Mayorkas said on ABC’s “This Week,” noting that implementation of the new policy — announced last Tuesday — has only just begun.

The executive action — which bars migrants crossing the border illegally from seeking asylum, with some limited exceptions, once an average daily threshold is met — marked the administration’s most dramatic move on the US southern border, which former President Donald Trump has made a central focus of his 2024 campaign. But the attacks on the new policy from both Republicans and progressive Democrats have underscored the precarious position Biden is in on immigration ahead of the November election.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, for example, accused Biden of “gaslighting” Americans on Sunday. “People need to understand that what Biden has done, he’s not doing anything to actually secure the border, in fact it’s the opposite,” Abbott said on Fox’s “Sunday Morning Futures”

“When he stops the asylum process, there’s nothing that Biden is doing that actually is preventing anybody else from crossing the border. There’s no type of enforcement mechanism in place.”

While the number of encounters between ports of entry is still high, it’s too early to know the policy’s impact. Still, Mayorkas insisted the restrictions on asylum would reduce the number of people who try to cross the border.

“Our intent is to really change the risk calculus of individuals before they leave their countries of origin and incentivize them to use the lawful pathways that we have made available to them and keep them out of the hands of exploitative smugglers,” Mayorkas told ABC’s Martha Raddatz.

The new policy would have been in effect for at least the last three years because of a surge in migrant encounters, a CNN data analysis shows.

Pressed on why the administration did not act sooner once the bipartisan immigration deal fell apart in February, Mayorkas pointed to the second attempt to advance the measure, which failed last month because of GOP opposition and Democratic divisions.

“The bipartisan deal was rejected once, we pressed forward again. It was rejected a second time and then we developed this and have implemented it,” he said. “And we’re at an early stage, and let’s not minimize the significance of this move and the significance of operationalizing it. And it requires the cooperation of other countries which we have secured.”

But Mayorkas again called on Congress to do more. “What we need is congressional action. We cannot resource the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Justice with additional personnel. We need Congress to legislate.”

In February, Senate Republicans blocked the major bipartisan border deal and foreign aid package amid a torrent of attacks on it from Trump and top House Republicans. Democrats revived the border measure in May in an effort to put pressure on Republicans and shift the narrative on border security, but the bill ended up exposing divides among Democrats and threatening to undermine the party’s messaging effort.

Biden’s new measure has further exposed that division, with some progressives coming out against it and comparing it to Trump administration policies.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a close Biden ally and co-chairman of his reelection campaign, tried to draw a distinction between the current and previous administrations’ approaches.

“Former President Trump tried to implement a Muslim ban, a ban on entry to this country explicitly based on one religion. He also used cruelty. The forceful separation of parents from their children and the caging of children at our border,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, pointing a finger at Trump for intervening to kill the deal in Congress.

“Former President Trump actually wants a problem to solve through his election rather than a solution that a bipartisan group of senators stood behind,” the Delaware Democrat said.

Progressive House Democrats, however, called last week’s executive action “a step in the wrong direction” and urged Biden to “reverse course.” And the ACLU has said it intends to sue over the new action, which it likened to ones taken during the Trump administration.

“I respectfully disagree with the ACLU,” Mayorkas said Sunday. “I anticipate they will sue us. We stand by the legality of what we have done. It’s not only a matter of securing the border, Martha, we have a humanitarian obligation to keep vulnerable people out of the hands of exploitative smugglers.”

CNN reported Sunday that Biden, looking to shore up Latino votes, is on the verge of another immigration move — this one focused on providing legal status for long-term undocumented immigrants who are married to American citizens.

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